IN THIS SAD FISH STORY, THE NUMBERS SIMPLY DON'T LIE
Ted Williams is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it any longer. Or at least not much longer. Late last week, standing on the crest of the slope leading from his camp down to the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, Williams looked out over the tranquil waters and said he was getting out. For good. Williams hadn't caught a fish in six days.
"It's a disaster," he said. "The worst I've ever seen." He said that for almost 30 years he had watched his beloved Atlantic salmon—"the greatest fish that swims"—get "hammered" by commercial-fishing interests catered to by a Canadian government without a decent plan or, apparently, much desire to preserve "one of its greatest resources."
He said he felt like a man forced to stand idly by while an old friend got strangled to death, that he was tired of waiting for a millennium. So he was making plans to put his camp up for sale and get out. "It's awful hard to give it up, because there's nothing to compare with this fish," he said, gesturing at the river. "But it's just not worth the time anymore."
On Sept. 30 the salmon season on the Miramichi ended. Williams had been at his camp near Blackville since June, as has been his custom since his ballplaying days ended in 1960, and this season had topped all others for inactivity and frustration. "You hardly even see fish roll," he said. "It makes you sick."
Williams said that he arrived in New Brunswick this summer "hopeful" of improvement: "It had to be better than last year," when he caught 92 fish—and released all but six—in 90 days, a near low for him. But this season he caught only 28 fish, keeping only three. Williams said, "Roy Curtis [Williams' guide since 1956] has been on this river 60 years, and he says he's never seen it so bad. There's been a 45 percent decline in 20 years. The numbers don't lie. Check 'em out."
The numbers do, indeed, check out, says Jack Fenety, president of the Miramichi Salmon Association. The Miramichi is the major Atlantic salmon river system in the world, with 500 miles of spawning water in its main branches and tributaries. Fenety says 1983 has been "the poorest season in the living memory of any angler who has fished here. And what makes it so dumb is that it was predictable. The required spawning runs are down 50 to 60 percent in some rivers, and as much as 75 percent in others. We've begged the government to stop [commercial interests from] killing so many fish, but they haven't. Now we've reaped the bitter harvest. It'll be the same in 1984. We've got ourselves boxed in."
Dr. Wilfred Carter, executive director of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, says, "Canadian governmental policy has always favored commercial salmon fishing over the anglers." The commercial nets take an average of "about 85 percent" of the salmon catch, and with the pounding the salmon took from the high-seas drift netting off Greenland in the mid-'60s and '70s—leading to a quota system still woefully inadequate—and Canada's failure to restrict fishing off Newfoundland, "the trend continues to go straight down."
Add to these excesses the lifting of the commercial ban in the Miramichi system in 1981, the extravagant allowances for "incidental catches" (salmon caught in cod and mackerel nets), the poaching, the Indian food-fishing dispensation that's really a commercial-fishing dispensation in disguise (the Indians peddle their catches blatantly), and you have a condition as predictable in its portent as crop loss after a devastating drought, says Carter.
With the battle lines long drawn and no corrective action having been taken, the future has arrived. The Miramichi no longer holds the charm it once did for American anglers like Williams; the sport-fishing industry is in jeopardy.
The solution? Ultimately, it may have to be as drastic as Iceland's banning of all commercial salmon fishing in 1923, a restriction still in effect. But in the meantime, these measures have been recommended: 1) Reduce by at least one-half the netting limits on the high seas, 2) restrict Newfoundland fishing to match those limits set in the other provinces, and 3) ban commercial fishing in the Miramichi system for at least two full spawning cycles, or about 10 years.
Last year, the Atlantic salmon-producing nations all approved a treaty to set up commissions to study the fish's plight. Last week, Canada became the final country to ratify that treaty, and commissions from all the countries involved hope to meet shortly. That meeting will do much to determine the fate of the fish, says Fenety, because "It'll be the last-chance saloon—all of us with our elbows on the table. And when it's over we'll either drink to a new era, or take the dregs from the bottom of the cup."
DOSE OF THEIR OWN MEDICINE
A couple of doctors last week performed a wild transplant job in the U.S. Football League. It was stitched together like this. Dr. Ted Diethrich, 48, a Phoenix heart surgeon, coughed up his Chicago Blitz franchise to Dr. James F. Hoffman Jr., 45, a Milwaukee heart surgeon. Then, as prescribed, Dr. Diethrich took over the Arizona Wranglers. With the exception of a quarterback and an offensive lineman who were bypassed and will stay in Phoenix, all the Wranglers were grafted on to Dr. Hoffman's operation in Chicago. That took nerve, but it didn't get under anyone's skin. In fact, there was no flap at all.
Without skipping a beat, Dr. Diethrich removed all of the Chicago players but three, Coach George Allen and Allen's son, Bruce, the general manager, and implanted them in Phoenix. As an appendix to the deal, Dr. Diethrich had the infectious notion of bringing the nickname Blitz to Arizona, but this remained embryonic when an inflamed Dr. Hoffman, who wasn't about to be hammered into any knee-jerk response, refused to knuckle under and eventually put his foot down, maybe because he found the name change corny.
Even so, Dr. Diethrich got a leg up on Dr. Hoffman. Each franchise went for a pile of money, about $7 million, even though Dr. Diethrich's Blitz, now Wranglers, had a healthy 12-6 record while Dr. Hoffman's Blitz, formerly the Wranglers, were a flaccid 4-14. Murmured George Allen, who flu into Phoenix for the announcement of the whole feverish transaction, "I've rebuilt four franchises, but I've never gone through this type of thing."
In this day of spiraling costs in college athletics, the arrangement between Long Beach State and neighboring Cal State-Fullerton makes hard economic sense: By jointly chartering a DC-9 to transport their football teams to road games, the two archrivals could hold air fares below what they would be on commercial flights; the teams also could get back home right after games, thereby saving the price of a night's out-of-town lodging. After carefully examining their respective schedules, the schools worked out three joint flights for the 1983 season.
The first was on Friday, Sept. 2. The two teams arrived separately at Orange County Airport and remained segregated on the plane—the Fullerton contingent in the front, Long Beach in the rear. First the plane dropped the Fullerton Titans off in Boise, Idaho, where they beat Boise State the next evening 13-10, and then it proceeded to Manhattan, Kan., where the Long Beach 49ers beat Kansas State 28-20. After the games the plane picked up each team for the trip home. There was no fraternization, which was just as well, because Long Beach and Fullerton were to play each other the following week at Anaheim Stadium.
Ah, yes, the Fullerton-Long Beach game. After being up in the clouds together, the teams came down to earth in a hurry. On the day of the game a newspaper reported that the Fullerton defense had organized a money pool to be won by the player who put the best hit on Long Beach Quarterback Todd Dillon or Running Back Lenny Montgomery. Upon reading the story Fullerton coaches quashed the pool, but the game was a rough one just the same. Underdog Fullerton won 25-19, but not before Titan Offensive Tackle Daren Gilbert and 49er Linebacker David Howard were ejected for fighting. And Dillon, referring to Fullerton's pool, said bitterly, "I hope all bets were paid," after he was knocked out of the game on a clean tackle by Fullerton Middle Guard Joe Aguilar.
The joint flights on Oct. 28 (Fullerton at Idaho State and Long Beach at Eastern Washington) and Nov. 5 (Fullerton at Utah and Long Beach at Montana) should be interesting.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Howard Wood, a 6'7", 225-pound forward who played for the Wisconsin Flyers in the Continental Basketball Association last year, recently signed on with the world champion 76ers. Last week he took part in the 76ers' annual outing at the Bala Golf Club near Philadelphia. It was only the third time in Wood's life that he had played golf. When he came to the 137-yard par-3 6th hole, he chose his club, a five-iron.
Wood hit the ball way over the green. The ball looked as if it would go for another hundred yards, except that the clubhouse behind the green blocked the way. An abashed Wood turned away. "I thought the ball was going through a window," he says.
The ball bounced off the clubhouse and took a couple of hops back toward the green. Wood's partner, Leo Rautins, the 76ers' No. 1 draft pick out of Syracuse, suddenly screamed, "Oh, God, Howard! It's going in!"
Wood turned. The ball rolled 30 yards down an embankment and trickled into the cup for a hole in one. As a player known for his bank shots, Wood showed he could employ his specialty on the course as well as the court.
Former Catcher Tim McCarver, now a broadcaster for the Mets, tells this story about Junior Ortiz, a rookie catcher for that New York team who speaks mainly Spanish. During a road trip, Ortiz was trying to do a crossword puzzle in English. One clue was "Clenched hand." The answer was four letters long. Ortiz had already determined that the second letter was an i, but he couldn't figure out the full word. Tom Seaver, who had been watching Ortiz work on the puzzle, began to act out the answer in pantomime. As if giving a sign, Seaver clenched his fingers together and made a fist.
Asked Ortiz: "Pitchout?"
After striking out on Atlantic salmon, a glum Ted Williams is selling out.
THEY SAID IT
•Tom Whidden, Liberty's tactician, after answering the phone when President Reagan called Skipper Dennis Conner in Newport to offer his condolences on the loss of the America's Cup to Australia II: "Get Dennis. The President is on the phone. He wants to tell Dennis he screwed up."